Where have all the kindergartners gone?
In the absence of official national data, independent analyses have tried to quantify this year’s shift away from kindergarten. According to reporting by NPR, kindergarten enrollment in districts across the country dropped by an average of 16 percent. Another analysis shows that this drop accounts for nearly a third of the total reduction in public school enrollment across 33 states. The decline might be greater among white families, which presumably have more resources for alternatives. In Oregon, for example, many more white families kept their children out of kindergarten than Black or Latino families there, according to reporting by The Oregonian, the state’s largest newspaper.
School districts and early childhood experts that are tracking the opting out of kindergarten report that some 5-year-olds are attending impromptu kindergarten classes offered by private preschools, while others are enrolled in online charter or for-profit schools. Some well-to-do families hire tutors — sometimes paying a teacher’s salary — to work alongside a child who is attending remote kindergarten. Other families are skipping the school year entirely.
The haphazard array of alternatives has early education leaders worried. While any kindergarten class reflects a variety of school readiness, kindergarten and first grade teachers will likely encounter a wider preparedness gap this fall. More children may be off track, not just academically but also emotionally and even physically, exacerbating inequities along class and racial lines.
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